Galt residents and merchants may save what Mayor Darryl Clare describes as "millions of dollars" in sewer rate costs now that a state water agency has relaxed sewer discharge requirements.
The California Water Resources Control Board agreed on Thursday to remove a deadline imposed on the city of Galt to comply with stringent new guidelines that were set a year ago, when Galt's sewage discharge permit was renewed.
The guidelines, containing 112 regulations, were so strict that they required treated sewage to be 200 times cleaner than the city's drinking water, City Councilman Tom Malson said in December.
Galt's City Council increased sewer rates nearly a year ago from $16.10 per month for single-family homes to $22.54 per month in anticipation of sewer plant upgrades estimated to cost $30 million to $60 million. The increases aren't expected to be rolled back.
The city still faces significant sewer plant upgrades, Clare said. Those should cost several million dollars less, he said.
Future increases could be postponed now that the state water board ordered its Central Valley counterpart to review Galt's discharge requirements issued a year ago.
The state water board's action Thursday may allow Galt to continue discharging treated sewage into Laguna Creek, just north of the city. The old permit allowed Galt to discharge treated sewage into the creek during the rainy season -- Nov. 1 through April 30.
Galt will conduct a study on how its treated wastewater would affect the creek, a tributary to the Cosumnes River, which empties into the Mokelumne River in the Thornton area.
The state water board relaxed the sewer discharge requirements after learning that cleanup of the former Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant near Ione is nearly completed, said Ken Landau, assistant executive officer for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The Sacramento Municipal Utility District has discharged small amounts of nuclear waste at the former Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant, which closed in 1989, Landau said. Nuclear waste discharge continues during the lengthy decommissioning process.
"Our understanding was that the diluting (nuclear) waste flow would be stopping in next four to five years," Landau said.
To keep nuclear waste sufficiently diluted, he said, SMUD purchases extra water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The federal water is transported from the American River through the Folsom South Canal to the Rancho Seco plant.
With the need for the extra water about to dry out, Laguna Creek will actually become drier, which could change Galt's circumstances, Landau said.
The city of Lodi isn't likely to get the same kind of reprieve Galt is getting, Landau said, because Lodi doesn't have the same kind of circumstances that present themselves in Galt, such as SMUD reducing Laguna Creek's water levels.
"It's very unusual to have something where your river is going to appear or disappear," he said.
Galt has five years to comply with the eventual terms of its permit. The city will save money by avoiding fines for not getting required studies and sewer plant improvements completed before the Central Valley board's previous deadline, Clare said.
"We are very pleased," the mayor said.
Galt will still have to convert its plant to tertiary treatment, which uses substances to coagulate wastewater and remove chemicals.
The state water board's ruling on Thursday eliminates the 2004 sewer discharge permit's ban on discharging several metals into Laguna Creek, including aluminum, copper, lead and silver, but the city must still upgrade its plant.
"They don't have a free pass to discharge whatever they feel like," Landau said.
Clare credited the hard work of City Manager Ted Anderson, other city officials, Landau and Paul Simmons, an attorney especially hired to represent the city on the wastewater permit case.
"Ken (Landau) was very instrumental in getting this done," said John Griffin, an assistant public works engineer for the city of Galt. "If we didn't get Ken's support, it wouldn't have happened."
Landau said he hopes to have a better grasp of Laguna Creek's water quality within the next six months. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board will issue a new sewage discharge permit for Galt, but it will take longer than six months, he said.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews-.com.